Tom Torlino, a Navajo student, is seen circa 1882 in before and after photos from the collection of Richard Henry Pratt, who was the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Image: Yale University

'Never Again': Trump administration revives boarding school era

Statement on Family Separation Policy

By Tom Udall (D-New Mexico)

Subsistence is a way of life for tribal communities that depends on passing traditional ecological knowledge down between generations. Today, we are going to talk about modern threats to subsistence, such as climate change. But, it was not that long ago that the major threat to subsistence – to all traditional practices – was the federal Boarding School policy.

Members of this committee are well aware that the Boarding School Era is one of this country’s most tragic periods – when presidents and Congress allowed Native children to bear the brunt of federal policies designed to solve the ‘Indian problem.’

And, even though we are decades removed from that misguided era, the impacts of cultural and community disruption still reverberate today. We hear it repeatedly in the testimony of tribal leaders and Native youth who come to speak with the committee.

Our response, as members of Congress, has always been to pledge: "never again."

Well, we are now called to uphold that pledge. The Trump administration’s actions are an attempt to write another chapter of the Boarding School Era, this time for immigrant families. It is once again putting forward a federal policy that tears children from the arms of their mother and fathers – this time to solve the "border problem."

We cannot – in good conscience and as members of this committee – let this practice disrupt another generation. While the president just announced he would sign an Executive Order ending his inhumane policy of separating families at the border, I remind my colleagues here today that we cannot be too vigilant.

And, we must not consider this matter settled until the details of this order are known and every last child is returned to their families.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) introduced this statement into the record at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 2018. Udall serves as vice chairman of the committee.

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